Splunk takes Google-like approach to virtual sprawl

Splunk Inc. has launched a new server virtualization manager aimed at helping network IT managers deal with various challenges in their Citrix XenServer environments.

The San Francisco-based IT services firm said its Splunk for Citrix XenServer Management system takes a Google-like approach to server management. This means that everything which provides diagnostic information – from the servers to switches and all the applications in between – are gathered and indexed by the software. The ability to IT search this information, according to Splunk, provides a clear view of every aspect of a company’s virtualized infrastructure, including the hypervisor, virtual machines, guest operating systems and everything else on the network.

“You might be dealing with a situation where two virtualized applications are sharing the same physical host, with one of them being an I/O utilization hog and the other one experiencing poor performance,” Sam Boonin, product manager at Splunk, said. “Those type of issues can’t be dealt with via traditional management and modelling tools. The big four console vendors deal with really stable dependencies well, but aren’t able to identity when a virtual machine changes or an application moves quickly.”

Boonin said that most of the virtualization management tools put out by major vendors such as VMware or Microsoft effectively manage their own virtual machines or hypervisors, but not the guest operating systems and other applications. He said that instead of using multiple consoles to monitor your heterogeneous IT infrastructure, Splunk’s system allows network managers to effectively Google their data centre in search of the problem.

“Increasingly with virtualization, the problem could be at the app level, the OS level or the network level, so we’re trying to provide users with a single view into all those areas,” Boonin said. “For example, the server ops guys might decide to move the CRM system onto a virtual host that’s being shared with the transaction system. The next day, when the CRM system breaks, you’re going to be able to use Splunk as a single place to do your troubleshooting and root cause analysis.”

He added that on a traditional management tool, network administrators would not be able to easily identify that the server ops staff put the CRM application on the same physical box as the transaction system.

John Sloan, research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, said that the most appealing part of the Splunk offering lies in its ability to manage both the virtual and physical layers.

“You have companies like VMware that have been very aggressively pushing management tools to bring more value to virtual machines, but those tools mainly just focus on the virtual machines themselves,” he said. “In a broader data centre, with a lot of complex technology, being able to continue to get the most out of the physical infrastructure as well as the virtual infrastructure and being able to map how they depend on each other is an area that needs more focus.”

Sloan said that despite the misconceptions out there, the virtual layer is extremely dependent on the hardware underneath and companies need to be able to manage that physical layer especially when dealing with troubleshooting, change management and performance optimization issues. Splunk said a typical Citrix XenServer Management system implementation would cost around the US$20,000 to US$30,000 range. The company is also offering a free 30-day trial on its Web site.

The company also plans to release applications for other server virtualization platforms later this year.

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